MINNEAPOLIS -- Odd, sort of, to be reviewing the most important week of the preseason and writing mainly about the impact of an officiating decision. But the most intriguing event of the third round of games has to do with officiating, and the effect of moving the umpire from the defensive to the offensive side of the ball so he won't be such a defenseless target in the middle of pass patterns.
I don't want to be too dramatic about it, but it's a virtual certainty that the rule will have far more impact on the Colts than on any other team in football. They won't be able to run their no-huddle offense with the same speed. And the triggerman knows it.
"If we had this rule last year,'' Manning said Saturday night, "there's no way we catch up in that New England game. We were down, what, 21 points in the fourth quarter? We wouldn't have had enough time to run enough plays to catch up. But forget about that game. Let's chart all the comeback wins where a team runs the hurry-up in the fourth quarter. How many of those games would have ended up the same way -- or would the quarterbacks have had enough time to run enough plays to come back and win?''
To recap the new rule: The umpire traditionally was the official who most often spotted the ball, then scurried back about five yards behind the defensive line of scrimmage to watch the play unfold. But last year, keeping with the recent tradition of physical plays against the ump because he was the center of a bunch of offensive crossing routes, there were approximately 100 collisions between players and umps. Three of those resulted in concussions. One resulted in an umpire needing shoulder surgery, and another ump need knee surgery after being knocked down.
The Competition Committee, backed by Commissioner
Problem is, lots of teams use the two-minute drill at times other than in the last two minutes of the half of a game. The Colts aren't alone, but they are the poster children for mastery of the quick calls and hurry-up pace.
On Sunday I asked the new NFL vice president of officiating,
"The way the new mechanic of the umpire positioning is, I don't have a resolution to that,'' said Johnson. "It's going to take a couple extra seconds to spot the ball. There's no way around that. But this is a work in progress. We're aggressively seeking ways to improve the mechanics.''
Do the math. An umpire traditionally is a stocky guy, to withstand the physicality of the position. Imagine if a team goes into the no-huddle and runs, say, seven straight plays of hurry-up, and the ump has to run in, spot the ball and then run back 12 to 15 yards. First of all, these big guys are going to be absolutely gassed. Secondly, they're going to slow the game down.
Many, many issues. One: Shouldn't the umpires now be the ones in the best physical condition, not the biggest men on the crew? I think if the league sticks with the ump behind the offense, the physical dimensions of the umpire will be altered with a nod toward a guy who can run all day. "I worry about the umpires' conditioning,'' said Indy GM
Two: Why do the umps have to be the ones who have to spot the ball? Johnson told me they don't, and crews have been alerted that other officials, for expediency's sake, can also spot it, depending where the play ends.
Three: Why does an ump have to be so far behind the line of scrimmage on the offensive side? Johnson said he doesn't; one of the tweaks already made to the system says that as soon the umpire is behind the back or quarterback -- whoever is furthest back from the line -- the quarterback can snap the ball without penalty.
Four: Why is the "false start -- snap infringement'' penalty even called? Why not simply just do the play over? Johnson said if there was no penalty in place, then there'd be nothing to stop a quarterback from hustling to snap the ball on the edge of the rules. If the passer knew he'd be able to do the play over regardless, then why not try to play hurry-up?
Thursday night in Green Bay, the Colts twice got called for "false start -- snap infringement'' for snapping the ball before umpire
Polian's view on the infringement penalty is an interesting one. He thinks a game with a slower or older ump trying to keep up with a quick-snapping offense could be significantly affected. "I am dead-set against the penalty,'' said Polian. "It is insane. If I knew it would be this way, I'd have voted against it, and not only that, I'd have crusaded against it.''
One other interesting issue here. The NFL has created one way of ump-positioning for 56 minutes and one way for the final two minutes of each half. In a way, the league is saying, We're concerned about umpire safety, but we're still going to allow 10 or 12 plays a game, on average, to be snapped with the umps in harm's way. "It's like you saying to your kids, 'Don't touch that!' '' said Manning. "Then you say, 'Well, you can touch it a couple of times.' '' The league's trying to straddle the fine line of not affecting the game too much with the health of officials. It's a tough call.
There will be a third conference call this week with the members of the Competition Committee and Johnson to determine what further tweaks to make in the system. This much is known: The NFL is not going back to the old way of umpire-positioning. That's for sure. Goodell can't say he's concerned about umpire safety, change a rule, then change it back without letting it play out in a regular season.
On Sept. 10, two days before the first Sunday of the regular season, the league's 17 umpires and 17 referees will meet in Dallas with Johnson to discuss the new system and whether there might be some little tweaks the rank-and-file can suggest to make it a cleaner adjustment. (It'll be interesting to see if Saints coach
For now, I can see some mayhem on the horizon. Indianapolis opens the season at Houston, and the Texans have the ability to play pinball football, scoring early and often. If the Colts find themselves down double-digits in the fourth quarter, I can see Manning wanting to go to a quick-snap set (he might want to in the middle of the second quarter; who knows?) and being frustrated by the pace of the officials.
Usually the NFL has a good officiating controversy two or three times a year. I don't remember one in August before.
Before I move on to the other news of the week, let's look at Manning's point about the Patriots game last year, to see if he's right.
I examined Manning's point about the big comeback last November to see about the quick no-huddle he ran. Let say, for the sake of argument, that the re-positioning of the umpire would have taken an additional five seconds per play, with the obvious proviso that on incomplete passes or on plays when the clock was stopped you wouldn't add the additional four seconds. Would the Colts have actually had enough time to rebound from a 31-14 deficit with 14 minutes to play to win? They had 16 plays. Eight of them were live-ball plays, with the clock running at the end. Considering that Manning bled the clock in the last drive of the game, inside the two-minute warning, it's a stretch to think that 40 seconds would have doomed the Colts that night ... though it's possible the Patriots, rested and able to react better to his fast-paced offense, would have made some defensive plays to stop the Colts on one of the three scoring drives.
Now onto the headlines of the weekend:
After his so-so eight series Saturday night on the hard floor of Mall of America Field (I prefer to call it the Metrodome, because that's what we know it to be), Favre went into the trainers' room in the Vikes' locker room and got an injection of lubricant in the left ankle that has three times been operated on to remove loose bodies. "Like a grease fitting,'' he said.
Noted orthopedist Dr.
Favre feels better, but not really that good. He explained the arthroscopic procedure that happened in May and what's happened since. He said Dr. Andrews made two incisions on the top of his left ankle, where the ankle flexes above the foot, and sucked out the loose bodies. He said Dr. Andrews wasn't surprised a significant spur returned when Favre went for a re-exam a month ago -- but he was surprised it happened so fast. The Vikings will attempt to manage the pain the spur brings on, but Favre said he didn't think he'd take any painkillers stronger than Motrin.
"It's catching up with me, all this stuff,'' said Favre, who turns 41 in October.
"I asked you this a year ago -- Do you think you can last the season?''' I said to Favre. "And you said you didn't know. How about now?''
"I don't know. I have no idea, really," he answered. "My ankle just seems to get easier to sprain. I know everyone thinks the New Orleans game [the NFC Championship Game] killed me, but it was bad before then. Now we'll see if I can make it. My mind's telling me one thing, but my body's telling me something else.''
I've said this all along: This ankle thing's a little different that the weariness he felt a year ago. There could come a time where his mobility is so compromised that Favre won't be able to get out of the way of the rush consistently. It wouldn't surprise me if the ankle knocked him out for a few games this year.
I'm exaggerating a bit there. The Saints certainly weren't the dominant force of Indianapolis or New England in the past 10 years. Not even close. But if the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series next year, wouldn't you give them three times the credit of any other team for winning such a series?
On the five-year anniversary of Katrina, I reminisced about something I really think helped revitalize such an important city. I was in New Orleans for the first draft after the hurricane, in April 2006, and I interviewed mayor
I hope, in the eyes of the city and country, people realize why. So much of it occurred as a direct result of the significant home runs Loomis hit. At the end of the 2005 season, Loomis and the front office, orphans because of Katrina, were working in the Sewage and Water Building in San Antonio. They'd been evicted from the Alamodome, and the team was practicing in a parking lot for the last two weeks of the season because of a Home and Garden show and then a state volleyball tournament in the Dome. I remember going there. What a circus. When the season ended, in an office regulating underwater pipes in San Antonio, Loomis plotted the future of the football team. In the next four months, here's what he did:
• Jan. 2, 2006: Loomis, given the leeway to do so by owner
• Jan. 18, 2006: Loomis, given by the same leeway by Benson, hires
• March 14, 2006: Loomis signs quarterback
• April 29, 2006: Loomis drafts USC running back
I have a particular affection for New Orleans, having worked for Habitat for Humanity a couple of times there over the years and loving every trip I've ever taken there. A lot of people have contributed to the recovery of the city, and the Saints have been vital. I am in no way attempting to ascribe too much importance to sports. But whatever the Saints have accomplished, Loomis is at the core.
One NFL medical person -- don't want to be too specific -- told me Sunday that the injury that is apparently plaguing fired Cincinnati wideout
I'm stunned the Bengals passed Bryant on his physical, then handed him $7.85 million in guarantees. Stunned. Whether the Bengals have good players in reserve at wide receiver -- they do -- is not the point. Wasting millions on a player clearly not ready to play is.
In the past two years, the Bengals have signed two veteran receivers to deals averaging $7 million a year.
So when I was in Jets camp earlier this month, I got the distinct impression from
Since I'd lost my phone in May, there went Thomas' number somewhere at the bottom of the Potomac (or somewhere in D.C.), and it wasn't 'til Saturday afternoon that I heard from him.
"That is ridiculous,'' he said. "If they called me, I'd definitely call them back. All I know is [GM]
The prospect of that didn't thrill Thomas, for obvious reasons. If a veteran is on a team's roster in Week 1, he's guaranteed his salary for the season. If a player signs in Week 2, a team can cut him at any time and be obligated only for whatever the guaranteed portion of the contract there is.
Thomas told me he and Rex Ryan did speak this weekend, and though nothing was remotely imminent, he hoped to sign with the Jets. He had good success under Ryan, the former Baltimore defensive coordinator, as a utility kind of player -- he played all over the defense, covering the former Chad Johnson in 2005 in a Baltimore-Cincinnati game. But in New England, he never found a niche in three years and clashed with
"I don't know if teams are scared off about me now or if I've been blackballed,'' Thomas said. "I do think there're teams out there I'd be a good fit for -- the Jets especially.''
"Don't feel sorry for me,''
Sure seems it to me. Last September, the USC running back was lifting weights in the football program's weight room, and a bar with 275 pounds in the bench press came crashing down on his neck. His larynx was crushed. If not for the football strength in his neck, the bar might have broken it. But he survived, and the former mid-round prospect got a free-agent invitation to Titans camp this year. Coach
Johnson made a nifty move on his first carry midway through the second quarter, gaining six. The ball was tossed to the sideline, put in an equipment box by the Titans. Late in the third quarterback, he caught a pass and tried to get away from two Seahawks, and he was tackled, and his leg twisted awkwardly.
"I don't remember too much.'' Johnson said. "But I looked down and my knee was facing coach Fish, and my foot toward the pylon. I figured I was in trouble.''
He broke his leg and dislocated his ankle. His first thought, he said, was "Why? Why now?'' But he said that by the end of the night, "I was thanking God that I was here. I went from being almost deceased to being in the NFL, playing in an NFL game.''
When the team gathered in the locker room, Fisher spoke. "Life's not fair sometimes,'' he said, and he went on to tell the players about the ball he had for Johnson, and he told his players to go into the trainers room and be with Johnson.
"We're not getting rid of him,'' said Fisher, though Johnson was waived injured, then placed on injured-reserved for the season. "He had very successful surgery, and he'll be back with us next year in camp. I expect him to have a good shot.''
That he should. He'll only have all of America rooting for him.
If you're doing a Rams game on TV or radio this fall, media folks, he's not the only rookie tight end with a weird handle. Illinois Mike was drafted in the fifth round.
"I feel good. If I can bounce back from this, what a book it'll be for my kids.''
"Stylez is my
"Let him open up his friggin' pizza shop in the Bronx and leave me alone.''
In other words: I can't trust this guy to stay healthy or to play competently, so please,
Anyone else find this weird?
Coaches 11 through 13 are all Hall of Famers (
Coaches 6 through 10 are all not Hall of Famers (
Of course, because coaches aren't eligible until five years after their final year on the sideline, Holmgren and Schottenheimer can't be in yet. Holmgren will be eligible in 2014, Schottenheimer in 2012. Parcells was eligible before the waiting-period rule went into effect, and four years he fell short of selection. Parcells, like Schottenheimer, will be up in 2012.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Seniors Committee -- a five-member sub-panel of the 44-member selection group -- met in Canton Wednesday and emerged with two candidates for election to the Hall in February 2011: former Washington linebacker
You'd have to be in your 60s to remember Richter, who last played pro football in 1962. You might actually know him as the former
But he goes down in history for being the man in the most interesting trade in NFL history. In 1951, the struggling New York Yankees of the NFL finished 1-9-2 and were on the brink of insolvency. With the second pick in the 1952 draft, the Yanks picked Richter, a big college star from the University of California. But owner
Four running backs!
The best player Dallas got back was Keane. Though the Texans folded in mid-1953 and were relocated to Baltimore the next year, Keane played superbly in those two moving-van seasons, with 10 interceptions in 1952 and 11 in 1953, when he was voted one of two all-pro safeties.
Back to Richter. Imagine you're the Rams, and you deal 11 players for this one player -- and then Richter tells you he's enlisting in the military. That's what he did, serving two years in the Army before taking the field, finally, for Los Angeles in 1954. He played nine years, eight of them ending in Pro Bowl nods.
Interesting that this wasn't the biggest NFL deal in the fifties. In 1953, Cleveland and Baltimore made a 15-player trade. One of the Browns traveling to Baltimore: defensive back
On a Delta flight from Boston to Minneapolis on Saturday morning, I was sitting on the aisle in coach, my legs snug against the seatback, with an empty seat next to me as the plane filled up. A young man, maybe 25, walked down the aisle, looked at his ticket, looked at the empty seat next to me and, wordlessly, began lifting his leg over my two thighs. The man, whether he could speak English or not, had no intention of motioning for me to stand up so he could get to his seat as a normal human being would.
"Whoa, whoa,'' I said, holding my hand up. "I'll get up.''
I got up, allowed the man into the seat, and sat back down. He didn't say a word to me, nor I to him, for the 2-hour, 17-minute flight.
No big deal, I guess. It's just that ... well, who would naturally think to get in a plane seat by climbing over someone, and clearly touching that person awkwardly while grabbing onto a seatback for support, and jarring the person in that seat?
"Every ump I have talked to this offseason hates the new rule where they have them. All of them felt the way fb players do. Injuries are part''
"Of the position they ref at. One also told me that the comp comm changed the rule without consulting one ump. (Although I'm sure Perrera''
"Had a say) loved what Tirico said. Put a helmet on them if they are concerned. Don't change the way the game is played. Altho if it pisses''
"Manning off, I could learn to deal with it. LOL''
Newspaper Agate Type I Never Thought I'd See Dept.:
From the sports transactions in Wednesday's
Of course, Ochocinco didn't respond with a quote, but with a Tweet, saying, in part, "Dad, again I apologize 2 you for my Tweet.'' Bengals coach
1. I think I'd be very surprised if commissioner Goodell didn't reduce
2. I think the best note from a practice session I've seen this summer came from
3. I think the Leinart yanking shows
4. I think it's hard to figure out which rookie
5. I think
6. I think the Jets had it right the first time --
7. I think those
8. I think that was not a good night for
9. I think the two
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. "Bowden says he was pushed out'' or some such headline was in a lot of papers last week. Whoa! Really? You mean there's anyone out there who thought
b. The Oakland A's can pitch. Between July 31 and Wednesday, they had a staff ERA of 1.99. I'm not sure what that's a record for, but it's one of the most amazing stats I've read in a long time. No one knows the A's even exist, yet they've had the best pitching, by miles and miles, in the major leagues for nearly a month.
c. Major-league box score line of the week, from Phils-Astros last Tuesday: RHoward 1b 7 0 0 0 0 5. No runs, hits, RBI, walks for
d. Coffeenerdness: I've got to hand it to Caribou Coffee in the Minneapolis airport on Sunday morning at 5:45. You guys make one heck an oatmeal at that hour. Good little latte too. Got me started pretty well on a jammed-up day.
e. The question is no longer whether
g. Red Sox. Pennant race. 2011.
h. Very good to be with you,
i. Sorry for the delay in getting the half-marathon fundraising information to you this week. We had some internal issues at SI that I will take care of this week, and I expect to have a webpage up next Monday with all the information you'll need to participate.
j. Good luck at Oberlin,
k. I wish I could give you more this morning, folks. The SI mag preview issue, out Tuesday, has kayoed me. Will try to be back longer next week.